Developer Lessons from Open Source CMSs

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 28, 2008

Web development and design agency water&stone has released a thorougly-researched report on "Open Source CMS Market Share." By looking at a wide variety of internet metrics, they try to identify the leading and up-and-coming open source software for content management systems. While the data is interesting itself, and useful if you're looking to implement a CMS backed by a vibrant open source community, there are also some wider lessons for developers here.

The report focuses on "open source publication-oriented content management systems in use on the web." Anything you can download and use to create a CMS was fair game; they ruled out hosted systems, proprietary systems, niche market products (like Moodle), and enterprise portals. The result is a list of 19 products.

The study's authors then analyzed the market by looking at a large number of indicators, including Google rankings, inbound links, search volume, demo site traffic, developers advertising their services, Twitter mentions, and more. Not to keep you in too much suspense, the three top ranking products by almost all the metrics are WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal (all of which, by the way, are popular with OStatic readers) - but there's more than that here if you read and reflect.

For one thing, although the cost of entry for open source software is low - put together halfway running code and hang a project out on SourceForge - that doesn't mean that every project is equal in the market. A number of measures, from pageviews at to Google Blog Search mentions, show a familiar power curve distribution, with a few products getting the bulk of the attention and the rest being relatively unsung. Launching a new open source project is easy; getting people to pay attention and use the project is much harder.

But it's not simply a case of "the rich get richer." Even being associated with an open source success is no guarantee of product adoption: MediaWiki fares relatively poorly despite it beign the software behind Wikipedia and associated projects.

On the other hand, it's also clear that this segment, at least, of the open source market is far from static. If you go back a few years, you'll remember a time when php-Nuke was the assumed standard open source CMS; you couldn't go wrong by implementing a new site with it, and there was plenty of buzz. Now it's in the middle of the pack somewhere. If you do produce a clearly superior product, or one that gets very good press, it's possible to blow past the current market leader.

Finally, the report shows that being thoroughly "Web 2.0" isn't necessarily going to attract users. While Pligg and Elgg are rising in popularity, their overall penetration is still minuscule compared to the big three.

The best advice for new project developers? It's still pretty much the same as it's ever been: write code to scratch your own itch, rather than to take over a market niche. Most of the open source market niches are pretty darned crowded these days, and as this report shows, incumbent products often have a commanding lead.